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Direct from Shenzhen: more iPhone than iPhone

In the “Blade Runner” category:

–, –, all,

Just finished sitting down with a Genuine Apple Employee(tm) — the piece of equipment I have is an — ingenious– fake. Copy. Facsimile; replicant, counterfeit, a genuine contre-fait.

The achievement strikes me. This device is running Apple firmware– or close. It mounts as if an Apple device. Normally, I expect it connects to iTunes as– as if-

The Apple Employee(tm) was so kind as to point out some of the clues, starting from the obvious– the manufacturer didn’t copy the Apple connector at the bottom– to the minor issues of quality– the screen is not as responsive, pixelates differently, has poorer colour quality… the Apple emblem is a few centimeters to the left… there are…

This strange creature– it’s slow. The digitizer– the thin membrane layer above the cells which project the display– has nothing of the sensitivity of the Apple device. The slide function halts and jitters, as if in a sort of schizophrenia– the processor inside cannot have nearly the power of the device used by Apple’s production line.

!Imagine. Imagine the engineers who designed this replicant, who, perhaps, speak and comprehend little of English… how close the replicant is, how hard to detect.

I am itching to tear it apart– to take my scalpels and dissect it– what is inside, what does it reveal? What are the chip numbers? Where did they come from? Did whomever made it, have access to a supply chain of actual Toshiba 16MB Flash– does it really have 16MB inside, or do they only put in 4MB and hope the end user won’t notice– or– perhaps more amusing– is the flash memory inside itself “a fake”– did the people who made this fake, perhaps not know the “Toshiba” chips they were purchasing were themselves fakes?

Apple, I heard, has purchased a few batches of those. How many of those replicants are among us– on “genuine” iPhones distributed by Apple? What do those devices do– how to they differ from the originals? Do they contain– transport– across our impermeable borders– threats, unknown, unanticipated?

Moreover– how intriguing!– the thing is used. The soft plastic molding on the back shows three or six months of wear. It was clearly sold to someone; possibly and probably returned due to defect; resold. The phone is SIM-locked to a Thai carrier, and has other personal settings: the music and video files, and pictures, of an individual life. Someone — someone in Thailand– purchased this– probably– thinking it was an iPhone!

Did he ever know, that… it was… a fake?

If I turn around, leaving it on my desk alone… will it … bite me? Transform into a little monster and scurry across the floor, to do some evil? Sit there appearing so attractive, then drop a trojan package onto my PC?

It also came to me, during the above– it’s locked to a Thai carrier!– why would you make a replicant of an iPhone, and then lock it to a carrier? That carrier, or their subsidiary, must be selling these things, somewhere. As “New.” Wow.

“Replicant iPhone, spotted in wild. Do we shoot?”

@—: So: I imagine a description of this and the take-apart photos (the Apple guy is taking some home to Austin tomorrow) would garner some attention. I’m emailing Pogue; damn it, I’ve lost the Wozniak’s email, but he was in Nashville a few months ago handing out cards…

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#1 Comment By PTC On February 15, 2009 @ 3:53 am

Ken- Any idea where this was made? Was it puchased from a store? Work its way into the market through standard/ “official” distribution?

#2 Comment By kthomas On February 15, 2009 @ 4:30 am

PTC: I suspect it was produced in Shenzhen– that’s where I got it from– but Taiwan or Thailand and elsewhere are also possible. I hope and suspect the innards will tell quite a tale: …

If it was not produced in Shenzhen or Taiwan– as far as I know, that would be significant. As far as I know, they are the only places in the world which have such a production capacity– for what little what I know matters. But in any case: the ability to produce such things may be speading. (And– thank you– your question reminds me that I once knew a grad student in Geography at Berkeley, who was a Williams alum, who specialized in types of “technology transfer” and may be able to help).

I don’t know how to express it– call it an example of “reverse engineering”– but that — someone could take a device that took Apple some tens or hundreds of millions to design and produce– and it must have been, with hundreds of thousands– make something so close.

What did they have to do– infiltrate Apple’s production facilities, steal the blueprints– or did they just take an iPhone apart and go backwards from there?

The Dean of Faculty at Deep Springs held that Blade Runner was the best movie ever made– over Citizen Kane– and this thing makes me inclined to agree. Think of what it can do– its security threat– its ability to deliver a hostile payload– it, as a form of war.

I’d like to have disassembled it tonight– I’m a qualified general surgeon for this– but I only have one. I’ll put it on the table in a few days, carefully, with still and video camera– an autopsy of the thing– and then put it back together, resurrected. And I’ll put some calls in to the specialists tomorrow.

The things scares me a little, and perhaps it should scare me more: but like any replicant, it is also a beautiful siren, attractive– perhaps better than the real, perhaps more real than real– and of course, simply real.

And as the Sirens– perhaps–

(and perhaps: this is just a premonition of the inevitable future– which we must come to terms with)

(and screw me for not having Steve Wozniak’s email at hand! Maybe I should just take a flight to Oakland, drive down, knock on his door, put it in his hand)

#3 Comment By Dick Swart On February 15, 2009 @ 5:56 am

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

#4 Comment By PTC On February 15, 2009 @ 7:48 am

Dick- You should continue your “what is it you like mantra” to include best movies (best comedy, action, sci fi, best of all time…, and best artists, rock bands, best rock guitar, best drummer… ) I know, it is not “all things Eph” but come on!! Everyone likes those conversations. I can remember late nights with my two roommates in College talking about “the best bands”… three jocks, in a room…. Talking about music. My one roommate, who played D1 football and Wrestling… finally declared “hey, you know what I think; I think a lot of good bands put out a lot of good albums.” Hahahahahaha! We all laughed and did a shot. “God we are stupid”.

Ken- Good luck figuring it out. You know what scares an ET person at my office the most- a flash drive. They long ago disabled every USB port available. I am in the process of trying to figure out what we need to be doing to make sure we have stand alone systems we can carry all over the united states, the ability to transfer information, without letting anything get anywhere near the LAN from our classrooms, except maybe on a disk that clears the ET shop. My shop is small… like 100 people… and I am thinking 100k in hardware just to give each separate entity a few computers that operate independently on one side of the LAN.

Cyber attacks are real. Usually because some dude in the office downloads something from “hot babes.com”… and then that works its way into something that then works its way into something. Kind of like “six degrees of separation to Kevin Bacon.” Six degrees of separation to an infected system.

#5 Comment By kthomas On February 15, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

PTC: will post an addendum of questions/concerns from last night.

The thing is a flash drive, of course; and if I become only slightly paranoid, I start to distrust those USB ports indeed, what can happen when I connect the thing, —; and what happens if the USB subsystem in my laptop is itself a replicant– from a covert operation?

Anyway, why I started with this was another story reported in the last weeks: across the world, people placing (fake) parking tickets on cars– the tickets direct people to websites where they can ‘pay or dispute’ the tickets– if they go there– the sites demand that they download a plugin to use the system– if they do, their machine is “rooted,” made part of a “botnet,” a series of computers partially (or wholly) controlled by others.

“I was Al Gore’s IT guy,” as he called himself last week, told me he wasn’t very concerned about monitoring for bots. The figures I see coming out of MicroSoft’s security division are that 40% or so of MicroSoft machines are part of botnets. What do these things do? Why? What are they preparing for?

Anyway: gotta repartition and reinstall Ubuntu. We’re a small shop– under 10 now– and the challenges for small entities, and keeping them secure and under control, seem high. I think you have to redefine the whole system: an office gets an IT system– networking, desktops, laptops– in a “box”– (I hate to say “turnkey”)– not piecemeal, as today.

Back to paranoia– the “guy” who set up encryption and security for Wells Fargo’s sites, one of the Symantec founders, spend some time at our house– never knew his real name, not sure there are many people who do, he’s that paranoid– way he sees it, not even the government should know his “identity.”

Gotta love the privacy phreaks.

#6 Comment By sophmom On February 19, 2009 @ 10:22 pm


Speaking of tech problems, I thought this was a particularly practical article. This excerpt from the larger piece deals with how to “use one’s head” to best advantage:

Suppose your remote car door opener does not have the range to reach your car across the parking lot. Hold the metal key part of your key fob against your chin, then push the unlock button. The trick turns your head into an antenna, says Tim Pozar, a Silicon Valley radio engineer.

Mr. Pozar explains, “You are capacitively coupling the fob to your head. With all the fluids in your head it ends up being a nice conductor. Not a great one, but it works.” Using your head can extend the key’s wireless range by a few car lengths.

Just further proof that we are far from maximizing our full potential.

#7 Comment By frank uible On February 20, 2009 @ 2:24 am

There are ways of coming in closer contact with the fluids in one’s body.